The 2015 Bihar assembly election had made it clear that the likes of Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, etc tend to punch above their weight. The BJP will surely weigh that in when the NDA distributes ‘tickets’ for the October-November Vidhan Sabha poll. By declaring that the LJP has, meanwhile, lost its faith in the leadership of Nitish Kumar, Chirag Paswan is repeating the five-year-old game of his father, but there could well be a BJP hand behind the scene in the drama. As Paswan Jr continues to repose his party’s trust in the alliance with the party that heads the union government, and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi pacifies his local boss, it cannot be forgotten that the JD(U)-BJP alliance is one of mutual albeit uneasy convenience. Despite a formidable caste equation on its side, the NDA had failed to wrest power from the RJD-JD(U) Mahagathbandhan not only for the political astuteness of — and Yadav support for — Lalu Prasad Yadav but also for the ‘Vikas Purush’ persona of the chief minister that transcends the Kurmi electorate. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of propagating his agenda of development by announcing one grant for Bihar after another was not enough to topple the man credited for ending the Jungle Raj of the RJD, much as the irony of his collaboration with the king of that ‘jungle’ stared in the face.
But the Mahagathbandhan government did not last its full term. The noise over Yadav Sr’s ‘corruption’ apart, it is not in the nature of the incumbent chief minister to share power. Given his positive public image, if the BJP has to grin and bear him — as it had even for the 17 years during which the JD(U) was a part of the NDA previously — the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has decided, say Bihar observers, to put Nitish Kumar on a leash. On a positive note, this is not a bad deal for the country. While the INC tolerated the rise of the regional parties to its own peril of diminishing relevance in different states, the BJP chose allies in Punjab, Maharashtra, the Northeast and Bihar, knowing well they did not all smell of roses and yet never giving up the endeavour to turn into the senior party in the state NDA. The saffrons balanced the negative impression that the Badals have connections with drug cartels with the positivity of Sikh representation. It cut the Shiv Sena to size in 2014 to fight the perception that the Maratha party was home to lumpen elements. It appreciated the nature of local parties of the Northeast who have always favoured the party ruling at the centre as their regional ally. And it knew well that its strike rate has always been far better than that of the JD(U) in Bihar and yet it gave away more to Nitish’s party at seat-sharing discussions one election after another so that the Bihari sentiment of pride in whatever the chief minister has been able to achieve is not hurt. But this balance needed a check. Hence LJP.
The question of public interest is whether this politics does any good to the fortune of Bihar. Yes, as it keeps the hoodlums of the RJD at bay. No, because Nitish is such a cautious socialist that an era of all-round growth will never dawn on the state till the time he is at the helm. Bihar will have roads but with potholes and Biharis will thank their luck that it’s a better deal than no road at all under Yadav Sr. Bihar will have government schools as it always did and public hospitals as it never had a dearth of. Girls will get bicycles as incentives for not dropping out of schools. But that’s about it. Investors will elude the state that does not inspire the confidence of returns. In the absence of a booming industry even after Lalu raj ended, one wouldn’t know what the fate of such people would be, who make money from the revived economy. Will abductions and extortions resume? The nation does not know. Nitish Kumar, who is sure to win another term — thanks to a jailed Yadav Sr, the horrifying memory the RJD evokes and listless Tejashwi Yadav — will not let it know.